James - Modified L&Y Class 28

Sir Richard Hatt profiles one of his flashest locomotive on the North Western Railway - James the Red Engine!

This month, for UKheritagehub, I, as always, ran a short contest on my Twitter account (@SirTophamNWR) for the next engine to be covered in this fine webzine. Imagine my surprise to find the result to be NWR No.5 - our fine mixed-traffic locomotive, James.


Why was I surprised? Well, our James has a bit of a reputation, doesn't he? He's a headstrong, stubborn, often rather quick-tempered locomotive, and with a certain television series harping on about his 'splendid red paint', it's little surprise he's not the most popular locomotive on Sodor - however, I always felt this a touch unfair. James can be of poor temperament but he is as hard working as the next locomotive, and has a fine sense of humour. He's intelligent, and has his wits about him - for that reason he remains a very common sight on the NWR Main Line.


He, like many of our engines, is an oddity. But his origins start off quite normally...


James was built at Horwich works in 1912/1913 as a Lancashire and Yorkshire Class 28, to designs by George Hughes. The class was an updated Class 27, with a larger Belpaire Firebox, Five foot-one-inch driving wheels, a larger set of cylinders and a superheater. The class were a fair design, suitable for mixed traffic with a certain nippiness to their gallop. However, the design had an issue - when running at speed, it was very front-heavy, no doubt due to the very evident overhang at the 'nose' of the engine and the aforementioned larger cylinders!


Hughes investigated the class closely, and chose a certain member of the class, of the later batch of 1913, for a rebuild in 1919, to see what could be done with them. Hughes, as is well known, was an admirer of foreign practise, and decided to make this Class 28 a 'Mogul', a popular configuration in the United States.


Hughes figured, thus, all he would have to do is add a pony truck at the front of the engine, extend the footplate forwards a tad, and then, for good measure, some larger driving wheels - of five foot, six inches, could not harm the experiment! The years went on, with James being used as a 'guinea pig' for repeated changes here and there - in 1922, the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway and the London North Western Railway algamated, and the experiments were abandoned, with James being very much surplus - and non-standard to boot - to both railway's requirements.


The future looked bleak for James, and in 1923, grouping took place, making his railway the London, Midland and Scottish. They were eager to get rid of these 'experiments', and eyes fell upon James rather sharpishly. Cue a stout gentleman entering looking for a bargain...


Needless to say, said gentleman was my great-grandfather! The fledging NWR was in need of further locomotives, and 'oddities' were the perfect choices. James was bought for peanuts (and probably a couple of pints with a certain Mr. Hughes!) and soon found himself transferred to Sodor.


James's career started fairly well, a timid sort of engine who found himself largely on freight duties. Still in his black livery with red lining. He was fairly knowledgeable, but he reckoned without the gradients on Sodor - and our famed goods stock, the 'troublesome trucks'. While cresting Gordon's Hill, his antiquated wooden brake blocks proved insufficient, and he was pushed until the friction caused a fire between his driving wheels. James slid down Gordon's hill, through Wellsworth station (past our E2 tank engine, Thomas, whom was shunting there) and came off of the line on the curve towards Crosby, crashing through a fence and coming to rest in a farmer's field. As is now well known, Thomas came to the rescue, and earnt a Branch Line in the process! James was not badly damaged, but work needed to be done.


Crovan's Gate rebuilt James entirely - he remained generally the same, but his weight was more evenly planned with a more substantial cab, and he was generally tuned to be more useful for passenger work, new 'proper' brakes and all - what's more, he was given a more impressive livery. This would prove to be a bit of a downfall for James's timid personality!


Rather than blackberry-with-red-lining, James was given a verge away from NWR standard. Rather than our preferred livery of blue-with-red-lining, James got a polished Crimson livery, with brass boiler bands, a large brass dome and black lining on the cab, splashers, and new 3500-gallon Fowler-design tender. He was, with no mistake, a splendid sight. And didn't he know it!


As time went on, James began finding his feet as a mixed-traffic locomotive. He began realising coaches require a certain level of etiquette and trucks required a lot of control. After what is now known as the 'Bootlace' incident, when a pair of leather bootlaces and some newspapers repaired a fractured brake pipe due to rough treatment, James learnt a very embarrassing but strict lesson. From here there have still been mishaps, of course,  but James is ultimately a very capable locomotive - he has even proven himself capable of taking express services if so required.


James is a troublesome engine at times, vain and argumentative - but he understands how to work and he knows that if he makes a mistake it is for him to rectify.  He learns a lesson and he shall stick with it. James will always be very proud - he is that sort of engine - but he is not a stranger to hard work or getting dirty as part of the job.


He is a very hard worker, and is still a common sight on local passenger services and goods trains - however, in 2011, James saw his role shifted as we took purchase of Philippa (Pip) and Emma, our HST 125. Now, Henry is more commonly seen on freight services, and James, versatile and light as he is, has become a 'utility' engine rather like Donald and Douglas, our Scottish Twins - meandering across Sodor as and when required. He is worked harder than ever before - and receives special attention as a result due to his advancing age.


James is one of the most iconic engines in our fleet, and as a result many heritage railways have taken to painting 2-6-0s of miscellaneous origin in a matte red livery for their 'Thomas' events. All the same, there is no real 'James' existent in the heritage circuit - and if there was, it most certainly wouldn't be the unusual design that James is today! All the same, should you find yourself on Sodor and see a red engine with a striking brass dome, polished paintwork and proud whistle grunting up a gradient, you'll have no doubt - That's our James!!

Find out more about James and his origins on the internet's definitive Awdry Railway Series website - The Real Lives of Thomas The Tank Engine.

Enthusiasts' group devoted to researching the trans-Pennine rail company and its 75 years of history

Click the link above for relevant books and products about James and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway!